I have a correction to make about my last post! The ‘small, but perfectly formed, expatriate favourite Dorabjee’s’ in Pune is now not so small! In the last three years it has morphed into a three-storey expatriate grocery heaven with all sorts of imported goods for the discerning foodie-away-from-home. It was a pleasant surprise and, yes, I did find some nice French cheese – even a French expat would be pleased with the brie and camembert on offer.
In Pune I also rekindled my love affair with the tuk-tuk. They call them auto-rickshaws here but I always refer to them as tuk-tuks which is what they call them in Cambodia where I first encountered them back in 2004. They are basically three-wheeled motorised mopeds with a seat on the back and covered by a canvas hood. They are a great, and cheap, way to get around a city as you’re still exposed to all the sounds and smells and dust of the chaotic streets, but they can be downright scary and you just have to put you faith in the driver when a truck is heading towards you and you think there’s no escape – much more fun than an air-conditioned taxi!
On my last night in Pune I took a short walk to the Hyatt Hotel to see how the expats enjoy an evening out but I hadn’t thought about the non-existence of street lighting, which is a bit of a problem when the pavement consists of uneven rocks the size of tennis balls, open sewers to one side and various wires and cables hanging low from telegraph poles. After almost decapitating myself and twisting my ankle I turned a corner only to find a motorcyclist several feet from his vehicle lying in the road under the glaring headlights of the car which had knocked him off. I think he was okay but the arguments among the crowd of bystanders were getting rather heated so I passed by and pressed on to the plush surroundings of the Hyatt.
Early the next morning I boarded a plane to Bangalore, in the centre of Southern India and often described as the country’s Silicon Valley after its high-tech boom at the end of the last century. It is the third largest city in India and continues to be a hub for many industries, particularly biotechnology and the flourishing IT sector.
I’m staying in the posh(ish) area of Koramangala to the south of the city centre but yesterday I ventured out on foot for several miles to get to the various shops, malls and outlets on my research list. It’s a constant delight passing the vibrant and bustling stalls which line the streets at busy intersections selling all sorts of goods from oversized papaya and watermelons to novelty trinkets and gaudy pottery. This, with the cacophony of sounds from the tooting and hooting traffic and the stench from the roadside dumping grounds bombarding your senses, is the urban India which I remember being wowed by upon my first trip to the country.
The weather here is also a bonus, with daytime temperatures throughout the country at this time of year hovering around the 30 degrees Celsius mark. February is also a good time for avoiding the torrential rains which can turn the city streets into rivers of mud and cause the traffic to simply stop moving. It also makes me feel a little smug knowing that friends and family back in England are freezing in the coldest temperatures of the European winter so far!
India is becoming, for some, a land of plenty but whilst most goods are available two of the hardest products to find which many expats are used to in their home countries are pork and beef. There are plenty of cows given free roam of the roads but with over 800 million Hindus in India the cow is for respecting, not eating. Similarly, with around 150 million Muslims it is hard to find pork. Thankfully in Bangalore I came across Bamburies, a shop catering mainly to foreigners providing all sorts of meat and fish specialities from Norwegian salmon and boiled octopus to Milano salami and German Black Forest ham. Yummy! Unfortunately McDonald’s don’t order their meat from Bamburies and the menu choice I’ve been faced with several times has been chicken, chicken or chicken. I’ve also been eating way too many tuna Subway’s. When out and about collecting data lunch has to be quick and convenient and today I found my diet consisting of a Wispa bar, a Mars bar, a McDonald’s and a Subway so I’m thinking I really need to get some fruit and veg in me sometime soon! I’m also guzzling mineral water like it’s going out of fashion. The hot weather and miles of walking means the body needs at least half a litre of the stuff every hour. It has to be bottled water too as any attempt at drinking water from a tap will only end in tears and discomfort further down the line.
Before I head off to bed I’d just like to say I hope you enjoy the photo slideshow which I’ve included at the top of the post. I find that whilst writing about a place you can only paint part of the picture and so I will be including many photos in future to hopefully add some life to my words. I’ve also added some to my previous blog ‘The splendid chaos of India’.